With Bobby Cox getting the nod to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame (along with 2 other no name managers), I thought it might be a good time to look back at his time as a manager of the Blue Jays.
Cox was our third manager, following Roy Hartsfield and Bobby Mattick. After 5 seasons of losing baseball, fans were starting to get restless, we wanted to feel like we were building to something and up until that point it seemed like we were like we were never going win. Bobby Cox was our first manager who seemed like he was there to win games.
Cox had been the manager for the Atlanta Braves, the previous 4 years, trying to build them into a contender. It had been going well, but then the 1981 season was shortened by a players strike. The Braves didn't do much in either half of the, rather strange, 2 halved season. The Braves were owned by Ted Turner, back then, and Ted wanted his face on TV as much as possible. He didn't want a losing team. He wanted to be admired. He seemed like he wasn't entirely 100% convinced that firing him was the right move:
Asked at a press conference who was on his short list for manager, Turner replied, "It would be Bobby Cox if I hadn't just fired him. We need someone like him around here."
Anyway the Jays scooped him up quick. It was a great move.
One of the most obvious things Bobby did was take some of the players with, how to put it politely, limited ability and platoon them. Make the most of the not so great players he had.
In 1982, he split the catchers job between Ernie Whitt, who the season before had hit .236/307/.297, and Buck Martinez, a long time backup catcher, who had OBP below .300 and slugging averages below .350 for most of his career. And he took two backup middle infielders, lefty batter Rance Mulliniks and righty Garth Iorg and had them split time at third base.
In 1983 he put together a rather elaborate platoon in the outfield. With Dave Collins playing left field against right-handers and Jesse Barfield playing right field against left-handers, and George Bell bouncing back and forth between the two positions.
1984 he started platooning at DH spot with Cliff Johnson hitting against lefties and Willie Aikens against righties. The next year it was Al Oliver DHing against the right-handers.
The catcher and third base platoons worked very well. 1983 Whitt and Martinez hit 27 home runs and drove in 89 runs between them. Cox doesn't deserve all the credit. In 1982, Cox brought in Cito Gaston to be hitting coach. Cito taught Whitt and Martinez to pull the ball, which they leaned well, especially Whitt, whose swing became all out pull.
Likely, the most important thing that Bobby Cox did was bring in coaches Cito Gaston and John Sullivan. Cito, well you know the story. We do owe Cox a lot for bringing Cito into the organization. Sullivan stayed with the team, as the bullpen coach, until after the 1993 season.
In Bobby's 4 years with the team, a number of our best players became regulars: Willie Upshaw, Jesse Barfield, Rance Mulliniks, George Bell, Jimmy Key, Jim Acker, Tony Fernandez and Tom Henke, to name a few.
His time with the Jays wasn't an instant success. The Jays went 78-84, finishing 6th in 1982, but Cox had a lot of the parts in place that would move the team up the standings.
1983 saw a big jump in our win total, with the team going 89-73, but we still finished 4th. Ernie Whitt found his power stroke, hitting 17 home runs in 123 games. Willie Upshaw and Jesse Barfield hit 27 home runs each.
We finished with the same win total in 1984, finishing 2nd, but still 15 games behind the Tigers who had an amazing season, going 104-58. George Bell had a full time job for the first time, hitting 26 home runs and driving in 87. Rance Mulliniks figured out how to hit, batting .275/.373/467. Lloyd Moseby had hit first good season with the bat too, hitting .315/.376/.499 with 18 home runs.
After 4 years with Cox as the manager, and in our 9th season in the MLB, we finally made the playoffs in 1985. Unfortunately, we lost out in 7 games to the Royals in the ALCS. Cox's platooning ways cost him. We were up 3 games to 1, when Royals manager Dick Howser figured a system to go against the Jays, in the last two games he started a right-hander and then would use a lefty in the middle innings, getting Cox to remove his left-handed batters from the game. Then, Howser's closer, Dan Quisenberry wouldn't have to face the lefties. Quiz, a submariner, was unhittable when facing right-handed batters, but LHB had an easy time with him. That and not finding a way to pitch to George Brett, who hit .348/.500/.826 with 3 home runs, cost them the series. Bobby was named AL Manager of the Year.
After the playoff loss, the Braves offered Cox their GM job. He stayed with the Braves until 2010. We would remain a playoff contender for the next 8 years, and, of course, would win 2 World Series. I'm not sure the World Series wins would have happened without Bobby Cox, especially, when you remember that he brought Cito Gaston to the team. A lot of the players and coaches, that were important to those playoff teams, got their start under Cox.
Cox goes into the Hall of Fame with a 2195-1698 record, the fourth most wins in baseball history. He also holds the MLB record for most ejections, generally in an effort to keep his players from being ejected.
I always liked the guy. I liked the platooning, though it is harder to do in these days of 8 or 9 man bullpens. I liked that everyone on his bench had a role. I also liked that he wasn't afraid to use young players, and he didn't give up on them in a hurry, he gave them a chance to succeed. With young pitchers, he tended to let them get their start in the bullpen, to give them a chance to learn how to get major league batters out in lower pressure situations. I think he might have been the smartest manager we had.
If he had stayed on after the 1985 season, I'm not sure how much that would have changed things, and it's not really worth thinking about, we had our World Series wins, he had a good run in Atlanta. I would like to think that he would have found a way to save us from the sudden fall off after 1993, but then I doubt he would have been manager under Gord Ash, I think he would have wanted the GM job by then.
It's his work with the Braves that got him into the Hall of Fame, but his time with the Jays set up the good things that happened to us too.